Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, December 26, 2009
      ( 12/26/2009 10:53:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“I’M A SHINIGAMI . . .SORT OF.” A lighthearted “older teen” manga series about ghosts and lost souls, Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne (Viz Media) centers on Sakura Mamiya, a pig-tailed schoolgirl gifted with the ability to see ghosts, and Rinne Rudoko, a snappish half-human/half-shinigami who helps earth-bound spirits pass onto their next life. As played by manga big-name Takahashi (best known in the U.S. as the creator of the popular manga and anime spin-off Inuyasha), the duo’s adventures provoke chuckles more than frights or Bleach-styled action, though the first volume is not without its monstrous creatures or the occasional panels with our “sort of shinigami” facing off against these massive monsters. Still, the primary focus is on deliberately paced character interaction between the schoolgirl and haori-wearing free-lance soul saver.

Though the spirits Sakura sees as initially presented more as a nuisance than a menace -- a bespectacled lovesick schoolboy who keeps popping up in front of the girl just because she once innocently noticed him, for instance -- we’re told by Rinne that if an earth-bound spirit doesn’t eventually come to terms with the regrets holding them to this plane, they become evil spirits. In the case of the geeky boy ghost, for instance, the lonely stalker spirit merges with the ghost of one of those “nervous dogs with the bulging eyes” to threaten both Sakura and Rinne. The resultant chihuahua/human hybrid looks cute until it realizes that Sakura doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, then it grows all huge and fangy.

Rinne, who has come to earth to help his full shinigami grandmother fulfill her quota of reconciled souls, lives by himself in poverty and is forced to scrounge for food and money. A student in Sakura’s class, he invents a new school legend, utilizing an abandoned school grounds weather hutch, to encourage ghost-afflicted classmates into leaving money and food as offerings. Fortunately, there are spooks-a-plenty for our hero to prod into their next incarnation: first offering he receives is left by a schoolgirl being harassed by a ghostly voice on her cell phone.

Because Sakura can see Rinne when he is cloaked from the rest of the living world, she quickly becomes a part of his adventures. Turns out the girl’s second sight is connected to Rinne’s grandmother and a visit to the Wheel of Reincarnation that Sakura took when she was little. Though Rinne is initially resistant to her tagging along, we know that the duo is destined to become a team -- if only because the schoolgirl has some ready money on hand. Connecting to the nether world takes some serious coinage, we learn; just the act of connecting to the ghostly cell phone caller with a tin can phone costs ten yen, for instance. When our heroine first sees the reincarnation wheel, she thinks it looks like a “ferris wheel.” Dealing with the afterlife proves just as hard on the purse as a day at the amusement park.

Takahashi presents these shenanigans with the right blend of silliness and straightforward graphic storytelling. In lesser hands, for instance, the nerdy stalker ghost might been rendered an unsympathetic caricature, but the manga artist affords him his own measure of dignity. She even able to present a ghost with a flower pot on his head without making him look like a cartoonish figure out of the waiting room scenes in Beetlejuice. When she introduces Rokumon, a Bakenko (“ghost cat”) sent by Rinne’s grandmother to help him the comedy grows a little broader but not at the expense of the ghosts. “Death can be a laughing matter!” the text on the back of volume one tells us. But it’s also, you know, still death.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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